4 steps you should follow when reopening your research lab
by Neoteryx | 3 min read
Local governments and states have implemented restrictions to reduce transmission of the deadly coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19 illness. Their early efforts paid off; the curve flattened in May/June 2020. Now, as businesses and organizations reopen and we see a spike in new COVID-19 cases, the focus is on minimizing transmission risks as people return to the workplace and other shared spaces.
Laboratories are considered high-risk environments. They need to apply special considerations because of ongoing research and potential hazards. Health authorities like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as well as academic institutions, have developed regulations to follow when reopening laboratory facilities.
Here are additional steps lab managers and staff should keep in mind when reopening:
1. Set Up a Reopening Plan
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been severe and will likely have permanent effects. Having a plan is critical to reopening large or complex facilities like laboratories. You must outline the necessary measures clearly to keep lab personnel safe and healthy. Have policies in place that employees must follow when are sick or exposed to someone who is sick. Have response policies in place in the event an employee gets infected at work.
Essential factors to consider when setting up the plan include:
- Formulating standard operating procedures
- Identifying manageable groups categorized by department, research type, and risk level
- Prioritizing research initiatives within the lab
- Setting up safety training lessons; providing the necessary resources
2. Prepare the Employees
Other issues that lab managers should address include:
- Allowing employees to work without urgency
- Stressed and overworked employees are more likely to experience accidents. Also, some personnel may be dealing with loss and grief. Lab mates should be ready to cover for staff who are grappling with coronavirus-related issues.
- Establishing PPE guidelines (and COVID-19 updates)
- Reserving the use of medical PPE to lab personnel and healthcare providers
3. Assess Lab Readiness
Unlike other workplaces, labs have complex safety requirements that need a re-assessment before reopening. If social distancing is still critical, workflows may need modifications like directional movement.
To lower the risk of cross-contamination, spaces may be set up to allow personnel to enter through one door and leave through a separate door. Such a flow also reduces back-to-back exposure of employees who might overstep the six-foot social distancing guideline. Other ways to prepare lab spaces include:
- Establish a schedule for using shared equipment and spaces
- Minimize density within labs to ensure six-foot work zones
- Restrict lab access to deliveries, PIs, and other staff
4. Keep the Entire Facility Clean
Research lab managers need to augment their routine disinfection protocols by developing new cleaning and disinfection plans to minimize the risk of transmission at the facility. The plan should explain decontamination efforts vs. routine cleaning procedures. Personnel should also be updated about individual sanitization and disinfection procedures they should follow daily—within their specific work areas as well as throughout the facility.